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The Outsider Advantage. Interviewing Planners and Other Elites in the Polish-German Borderland

1 Södertörn University, Centre for Baltic and East European Studies, Huddinge, SWEDEN
Pages: 101-108

Abstract. As conducting interviews with elites is increasingly common, an important debate has emerged around the researcher’s positionality as an insider/outsider also in a geographic sense. Three standpoints can be distinguished. Initially, some emphasised the advantages of the insider in eliciting interesting and sometimes even sensitive information from informants. More recently, several scholars suggested that this position is never stable. Our experiences are however more in line with those who demonstrated the advantages of being an outsider. Coming from outside the study area may be particularly helpful when interviewing elites on sensitive issues such as contacts in a borderland with a troubled history, like between Poland and Germany. Our 38 interviews reveal three patterns. First, blaming the other side is not unusual on both sides of the border. Second, de-emphasising the importance of cooperation is more common on the Polish side, but also occurred on the German side. Finally, a discourse of re-establishing the historically coherent region is clearly present on the German side, but lacks almost entirely on the Polish side. It is doubtful whether we would have been able to elicit such attitudes from both studied groups had we belonged to either one of them.

K e y w o r d s:  cross-border cooperation, German-Polish borderland, elite interviews, insider, outsider